We had forgotten about Leo being lost for words until Bríd Smith reminded us during Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday.
The People Before Profit TD brought the Taoiseach back to a Dáil exchange on housing he’d had the previous week with Solidarity TD Mick Barry.
“You seemed unable to finish a statement in response to my colleague,” she remarked. “You said that you believed this side of the House divides people. We create walls between those, you said, ‘who pay for everything and who don’t qualify for anything, and those who . . .’
“But you couldn’t finish the statement. You got a bit flustered and you sat down. And that was good spin and good drama training that made you sit down because I’m going to tell you, what you were going to say is ‘those who pay for nothing and expect everything for free’ and you were referring to people who live in social housing. I grew up in a social housing estate, as I am sure many other deputies did and we paid our rent . . . And it was not a ghetto.”
People in the chamber hadn't a bull's notion what the pair of them were on about
Leo Varadkar wasn't buying her theory.
“What the deputy tried to do there was a classic fallacy. If I did it [a similar argument], no doubt people would call it spin, but it’s not spin. It’s a fallacy. It is an attempt to put words in other people’s mouths, to finish their sentences or to do what they often do, which is to tell us what we think, as if they knew. It is just classic fallacy.”
People in the chamber hadn’t a bull’s notion what the pair of them were on about.
Harking back to his exchange with Cork North Central TD Barry, the Taoiseach said he had been describing the sort of politics (“which is to divide people”) practiced by Bríd and her fellow socialists.
Barry had given him examples of sites in Dublin and Cork where public housing on public land was proposed but had yet to get the go-ahead. Such projects present “a good and viable alternative to the Government’s plan for mass privatisation of land through the Land Development Agency”.
The Taoiseach responded by saying the local authorities had plans for the areas mentioned involving a mix of housing – private, affordable and social.
Socialists, he said, want to divide people into those who live in private estates and those who live in council estates.
Then came the bit which caught Bríd Smith’s attention: “They want to divide our society into people who live in different areas – some people who pay for everything and qualify for nothing and other people, eh, who-who-who-who, em, who- who, eh, peop . . .who . . .”
Clearly flustered, the stuttering Taoiseach flailed his hands about.
“Well, it’s the wrong way to do it!” he concluded, sitting down.
Fallacy or no, as fal-las-we-cy it, Smith called it dead right. Varadkar, in full flow, was cute enough to see he was about to put his foot in it and reversed engines immediately.
FG’s action-driven housing action plan that never got actioned
Housing dominated the week.
It’s been a long week. It felt like years. Maybe because it has been years.
Back in 2011, as the country was still reeling from the economic crash, taoiseach Enda Kenny pledged to take action and eliminate homeless by 2016. In 2016, Kenny admitted things didn't really work out as planned.
“It hasn’t gone as well as we’d have liked,” he said.
But no matter. Because in July of 2016, Simon Coveney came galloping over the horizon on a horse called JCB waving a blueprint above his head like a Stetson and zig-zagging through "five pillars" on the way to "Rebuilding Ireland".
Rebuilding Ireland was an “action-driven plan that will result in a dramatic increase in the delivery of homes nationwide”. The country and the government now had “a clear roadmap” on how to proceed with housing.
“It is action-orientated,” confirmed the taoiseach.
Coveney was very gung-ho with his “80 separated actions structured under five main pillars of concerted actions right across government.”
He had another big launch for the rental pillar and the plan led to a major row with Fianna Fáil, upon whose support the government relies.
Meanwhile, Fr Peter McVerry was one of the “stakeholders” working in the area of homelessness invited to the launch of Rebuilding Ireland. He was impressed by what he heard, and said so, but wasn’t going to get carried away until he saw a reduction in the figures.
Of course, the first plan that year was only the action plan on achieving a working action plan
Fr McVerry was the final speaker at the housing protest in Dublin on Wednesday and he was cheered to the rafters by 10,000 or so citizens who turned out for the midday march. He was right not to get carried away by the 2011 plan.
It hasn’t gone well.
Of course, the first plan that year was only the action plan on achieving a working action plan. “Now that we have this plan,” said Enda of the second one at the second big launch, “the emphasis is now on implementation. You can be sure we mean business in this regard.”
And still they came, along with a new minister: the pillars and the plans but precious few places for people to call home. Houses on land, not off-balance sheet. Rapid Build Housing Programme, anyone?
“Can yis not just build some houses?” an exasperated populace implores their Government. “You own loads of land in all the right places. Just build the bleedin’ houses. Like they did before.”
Leo Varadkar insists his Fine Gael government does not have an ideological aversion to building houses on public land with public money for hard-pressed people.
If hot air could build houses there would be no housing shortage today.
This week, the Taoiseach agreed there is no housing crisis.
He agreed there is a housing emergency. But it’s only a word, he told the Dáil on Wednesday. It won’t put mortar on any bricks.
On Thursday, his Government opposed a motion calling for the housing and homelessness crisis to be declared a national emergency.
The government lost.
Why John McGuinness’s housing Bill couldn’t find a home
It’s been a while coming, but on Tuesday the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party finally witnessed a showdown between maverick party TD John McGuinness and his exasperated leader, Micheál Martin.
McGuinness has long been a thorn in the side of the leadership and is something of a law unto himself, even among the undisciplined ranks of the party's current crop. A minor example of this would be his recent appearance in Leinster House with Gemma O'Doherty, the former Irish Independent journalist who was trying to get a place on the ticket for the presidential election.
While local representatives may not be under strict orders to support a particular candidate, the parliamentary party voted to endorse Michael D Higgins, a policy decision which Martin expects his TDs and senators to uphold.
McGuinness was observed showing O’Doherty around Leinster House and introducing her to politicians in the period before nominations closed. She had been attempting to persuade 20 Oireachtas members to nominate her, but was unsuccessful. McGuinness’s actions didn’t go down well with some of his colleagues.
In August, the TD for Carlow-Kilkenny, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, wrote to Fianna Fáil public representatives all over the country accusing the leadership of having no “backbone” and seeking their support for an early recall of the Dáil to discuss his Affordable Housing and Fair Mortgage Bill.
He introduced the Bill to the Dáil in July to applause in the chamber. However, since then, McGuinness says the party has not given him any support.
He complained in his letter about bringing Edmund Honohan, the Master of the High Court, to meet senior Fianna Fáil members, "but he got little thought or time." Honohan drafted the Bill, which aims to tackle the mortgage crisis.
Having defended and promoted the Bill at parliamentary party meetings, McGuinness said he got no support from the leadership “both elected and unelected” and the party needed to “find its soul and regrow its backbone, become the opposition it used to be”.
Martin then rounded on the TD for saying he walked out when the Bill was being introduced
At Tuesday’s parliamentary party meeting, McGuinness brought up the subject of his Bill again. “Are you going to support this?” he demanded, whereupon Martin suddenly got stuck in. “Hold on a second,” he said, reminding him of that letter about the party having no backbone. He declared he wouldn’t be taking any lectures from him.
Martin then rounded on the TD for saying he walked out when the Bill was being introduced and then for claiming he didn’t give Honohan a proper hearing. “I did no such thing. That’s not the case and you know it.”
He said he met the people involved in drafting the Bill and they agreed with him that it needed a lot more work if it was to succeed.
If McGuinness didn’t want to take his word on it, perhaps Jim O’Callaghan, the party’s justice spokesman, might take him through it. O’Callaghan, who is a Senior Counsel, then went through the Bill. He took it apart. While fully in favour of what it proposed to do, the lawyer pointed up problem after problem.
The rest of the parliamentary party said nothing. Even Marc MacSharry, who earlier supported McGuinness, went quiet.
The TD still insisted that his Bill should go before the house as it could be tweaked along the way. But he was told there was too much tweaking required.
If they were just to “throw it in” and hope the Government would help it along, “I think they’d just laugh at us,” concluded O’Callaghan.
Nothing like clearing the air.
Don’t expect a rapprochement between John and Micheál anytime soon.
TDs scramble to spice up their evening meal
Culinary news from Kildare Street, where politicians like to keep on top of the latest trends in the food world.
Wednesday saw a groundbreaking development on the evening menu in the Dáil canteen when the phenomenon known as “The Spice Bag” made its debut in Leinster House. Strips of deep-fried seasoned chicken mixed with shreds of carrot and onion all jumbled up with spicy, salty chips were presented for the delectation of diners. The delicacy was not on the menu in the Members’ restaurant, where delusions of grandeur are the order of the day.
However, we hear some TDs sneaked in portions from the adjacent canteen and Joan Burton was heard explaining the finer points of this Chinese takeaway favourite to a number of her nonplussed Dáil colleagues.
The offering was a runaway success. Politicians and staff couldn’t get enough of it. More than 100 portions, were served, with prawn crackers, until the kitchen ran out.